John with Composer Christopher Gunning.(c)john williams 2017.
John Williams. has had a long love affair with TV and movie music, and was one of the leading lights in getting interviews and reviews into print in magazines such as, MUSIC FROM THE MOVIES, LEGEND, MOVIE COLLECTOR and many others. He also wrote in depth biographies of composers such as Henry Mancini and championed composers such as Debbie Wiseman, Richard Harvey, Nick Bicat, and Rachel Portman in their early days and always alerted me to the ample talents of Stanley Myers. He has recently re-located to Scotland, but has also recently began to write about film music once again and contributes to Movie Music International. I asked John a handful of questions, here are his responses.
Firstly, why Film Music?
A darn good question. We have all started at this point, and everyone will have a different answer. As has been proved over the years, it is very much a hobby, if that is the right word, that is very small compared with say, Classical Music or Pop, though funnily enough it crosses over both on many occasions. Why then Film music and not the Beatles. Beethoven or Clodagh Rodgers. I like all three, but you know what I am getting at. Don’t you just love all the highbrow Critics and Composers, who say,” Well, our house was full of music right from the word go. My father came home and listened to Opera on a LP every night, my sister was always on the piano, with Chopin or Brahms- if you see what I mean in the nicest possible way! The Radio was always tuned to the Third Programme, and every week we went up to town for the latest Concert by the LSO.”
Well, most people would probably say, in your wildest dreams! We had no piano, none of my parents could play a musical instrument, and if the Radio was set on anything, it would be the Light Programme, for Tony Hancock, Two Way Family Favourites, Housewives Choice and Billy Cotton! The only music I grew up with was Johnny Ray, David Whitfield, Rosemary Clooney and Max Bygraves- – and I enjoyed them all. Film music must have come in because my Mother loved the Movies a long time before I turned up. Before the War in fact. So, she would take me to the Movies on a Saturday Afternoon. No Children’s Film Shows for me. Thinking back, I don’t know I got in to see SAPPHIRE and other somewhat Adult Orientated Movies, but I did. I think the first Film I saw was THE KING AND I. Mum loved Musicals, and it was a corker. I can see that film now, but from two points of view. One, as an adult with all the baggage that entails and one as a 7-year-old child seeing a Film for the first time. Maybe that’s why I have always loved the films from 20th Century Fox. So, most Saturdays, at the movies. The first Soundtracks I got were the original MGM LP of BEN-HUR, with the distinctive yellow cover, and the, was it HMV LP of THE BIG COUNTRY with again a distinctive cover – this time in Orange? Both for my Birthday I think. I had them for years. That must have been the catalyst. Slight aside to be Devil’s Advocate. These LPS were designed for listening pleasure. not for Soundtrack buffs which is why they stayed in the catalogue for so long. At around 35 minutes all in, that is probably just about right to hold one’s attention. Now with the full soundtracks of both available in their original form, and in fully brand-new recordings, I still find that those two original LPS have a great deal of appeal. Both in timings and selections. I am sure there must be someone, but I don’t think there can be many that can listen to all of BEN – HUR in a sitting. I digress, but Rod Hume who used to review Film Music in the Fifties for Films and Filming once said, and I will never forget it ” Rozsa always sounds the same to me – Loud and Long”
What was my first Record purchase and if it was not a soundtrack what was the first film music you went out and paid for?
God knows. I started work in September 1964, and at the time GOLDFINGER was the big Movie so it might have been that. I loved John Barry’s music during the 60s. That was for me his high spot. Especially the compilation LPS he did for CBS. THE GREAT MOVIE SOUNDS OF JOHN BARRY, with versions of SEANCE ON A WET AFTERNOON, KING RAT and THE CHASE. I got that in a sale and was highly delighted. I recall being disappointed when after ordering THE CHASE from W.H. Smith several miles away, I went in to pick it up and was told, it had been delayed. Never forget that. I played that LP for weeks The first Goldsmith I think was IN HARM’S WAY but otherwise difficult to tell. I recall vividly that when Boots the Chemist had, believe it or not Record Departments, what a lovely thought – they had some CBS Soundtracks for sale at 12/6 including THE SONS OF KATIE ELDER, 55 DAYS AT PEKING, and a small local store had THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN………., BYE, BYE BIRDIE and AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS at a similar price. Fantastic. I of course bought them, though to be honest, I don’t think I played them that much. Do we ever learn, but you find out the hard way that just because a LP had “Original Film Soundtrack” on the sleeve in big lettering, that doesn’t mean it was any good! At that time when you were starting out, information on Soundtracks was very sparse, so if you saw a LP, then it was an eye opener and sometimes an unknown quantity. What we would have given for the access and information that is now available on the Internet. I had little index cards to list Alfred Newman and Franz Waxman credits. Then the Television Channels showed a lot of 40S/50S Movies – a lot more than they do now, so one collected a great deal of credits in a short amount of time. It was more fun. Today it is too easy. Then the excitement of adding a new Alfred Newman score to your lists was indescribable
Before the arrival of CDS How many soundtracks did you have in your collection on Vinyl?
A fair few but over the years in moving many times, the quantity went up and down. In the 60s I had hundreds.
What was your most expensive soundtrack purchase
Difficult If one remembers an Imported US LP in the late 60S was a very expensive purchase, especially if you were on a lower wage, so relatively it could have been one of them. I did buy the GOLDSMITH AT FOX set and that was big bucks especially as the pound was low at the time
Do you still buy LP’S and if so which do you prefer? LP CD or Download
Download most definitely. Not so much room taken up. I still collect the odd LP. Now I am into the Themes albums from the 50s /60s. Don Costa, Leroy Holmes, Jimmy Haskell. Did you know how many versions of Goldsmith’s THE PRIZE is out there? Much more than you would think.
Is there anything that you are looking for that maybe you have not been able to find
No question Goldsmith’s ANNA AND THE KING (1972). I know there was a suite on the GOLDSMITH AT FOX set, but I would love to hear more- if there is more that is
What Composer dominates your collection?
Hmm. As most of my stuff is on download etc. I guess Goldsmith. He will always be Number One. As for CDS, Again no question, Richard Harvey. I have more CDS by him than anyone else. He is brilliant- can do anything. Like David Shire and Bruce Broughton, why doesn’t he get more commissions? All of them have more talent than any of today’s so called A List Composers.
Composer Richard Harvey.
What is your opinion of the state of Film Music in recent years, compared to the 40s, 50s. 60s and 70s?
Another difficult one. Easy to say not as good. But it isn’t as easy as that either. Someone starting out now might think Messrs Zimmer, Wallfisch, etc are the tops and nothing in the past can hold a candle. Maybe, It’s all relative. When I went to a recent Concert of Hans Zimmer and John Williams music, I was impressed with the Zimmer stuff more than I thought. but and I like to think I have good recall even at my age, but after hearing the Zimmer stuff, half an hour later I couldn’t remember it. It maybe I have known the Williams music for so long. As a good friend says “Where are the themes|? and of course he is right. Themes don’t come into it these days. I like Alexandre Desplat, I have a fair few scores of his, but asked which one do you like best, I wouldn’t know. I don’t really remember any of them!!
How do you store your CDS?
On two shelves. I haven’t got that many
PS Back to the question before last. Where are the themes? Just listen to any of Michael J. Lewis scores, and you will hear themes. Not just themes, but music that gets into your Soul. That’s what Film Music can do when it works. MJL does it for me, but you will have someone else – and why not. As the great Lionel Godfrey once said about Hollywood Musicals – “after all my meat, might be your poison”
If you were asked by a record company to select titles for a release or a re-release what would you select?
1) THE MAGICIAN AND OTHER GREAT TV MUSIC BY PATRICK WILLIAMS Music from the series starring Bill Bixby plus other themes TERROR IN THE SKY, A TIME FOR LOVE, MRS SUNDANCE etc
2) COLUMBO CDS for individual series or devoted to Composers BILLY GOLDENBERG, PATRICK WILLIAMS, DAVE GRUSIN, GIL MELLE, JOHN CACAVAS, BERNARDO SEGALL etc
3) THE INSPECTOR DALGLEISH MYSTERIES. Music from the Anglia Series by RICHARD HARVEY
4) AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT Music by Christopher Gunning. A good series could be made here, considering Chris Gunning worked on over 40 episodes.
5) IN HARMS WAY Jerry Goldsmith Expanded score
6) as previously mentioned ANNA AND THE KING Goldsmith
7)THE CHAIRMAN Goldsmith. I know the CD contains most of the score but there is more, even more than the Suite on GOLDSMITH AT FOX set
8) SHAMUS Jerry Goldsmith
9) THE DON IS DEAD Jerry Goldsmith
10) MICHEL COLOMBIER AT UNIVERSAL. Music from THE OTHER MAN, THE RHINEMANN EXCHANGE, COLOSSUS; THE FORBIN PROJECT and HAROLD ROBBIN’S THE SURVIVORS
There could be more, but if I could hear the Colombier one, I would die a happy man!!